This is a strange land. The days that are not scorched under the burning sun are usually sultry under the oppressive humidity of rain bearing clouds. When it rains, it does not rain in drops – like it should, but in sheets of impenetrable water. In the creeks and waterways lurk predators unchanged for eons. The dry land holds no reprieve as it is replete with venomous critters, unseen and unheard harbingers of death. It’s not surprising then, that it is but a wasteland for the peoples populating the more hospitable lands to the south. Neither is it surprising that this land is devoid of humanity. It’s not that this land is without a strange, almost ancient, kind of beauty. However, it’s not, obviously, something that beckoned visitors or would-be residents with open arms.
This is why it was so weird that they had left their cozy homes and comfortable jobs in the anonymous suburbia to move here. Mat & Sid’s parents had always romanticized this land. Their youth and naivety had misled them into a notion of freedom in the life off the land under this harsh sun. It would have been ironic, had it not been such a tragedy, that they had far too soon lost their lives to this unforgiving land. The twins were at the tender age of five or thereabouts.
It was a matter of tremendous luck then, that in such a tenuously populated area the twins had found a caretaker. Bigg was a recluse, probably a felon and most definitely a maniac with delusions of grandeur. In his mind, he was the king of this realm. No animal could harm him. The shining bright sun that made tinder out of living trees was powerless to make him sweat and the venomous critters were but vermin to be squashed underneath his bare feet. But that is what made him special and especially suitable to live off this land. He was fearless in the face of danger which lurked paralyzingly close. This, in turn, made him able to fetch food, water and shelter at will.
It didn’t come as surprise to Mat that they had a very unusual childhood. They didn’t learn about the world or math or culture, no, they learnt about the greatness of Bigg. They learnt how he could bend the land to his will. When not learning how else to exalt Bigg, they learnt to kill animals that could kill them and eat the rest. They also learnt to stalk and hunt, to grovel and beg before Bigg for more ideas and when all else failed, to steal – from each other, from other, more formidable, critters. Mat never liked this life and yearned to escape. It’s not that he was ever prevented from escaping, it’s just that he knew, even as a child, separation from Bigg meant death in this unyielding landscape and that tormented him. Sid, on the other hand, while never deriving sadistic pleasure out of any of this, was, for the lack of a better word, content. This annoyed Mat, it did as child and it did now.
Despite all his vagaries, Bigg was a father figure for the twins. He valued the stories of their exploits in the land more than the spoils. He had, for instance, no interest in the meat that took a great deal of effort on the part of twins to hunt, but he had great interest in their story of the hunt, and the fact that they did it. While he enjoyed some of the fruits of his own toils, he never grew attached to them, neither did he place a great deal of value in things the twins had obtained at great effort. He was too attached to himself, perhaps. This was another thing that Mat never understood; to him, something that took effort to procure was valuable, it’d even more valuable if others valued it too, of course, but they didn’t. Mat would often remind himself that Bigg was a maniac, that would explain everything. But what annoyed Mat was the fact that Sid would nonchalantly let their spoils go to waste were Mat not to take notice.
When the twins were not much more than fifteen, they were “discovered” by some hardy travelers passing through. Child protection services had put them up in a care center and eventually a foster home. The date they were brought to the foster home was celebrated as their birthday ever since. Mat loved his brother, and he was sure Sid loved him back, in as much as he could be said to love anything. But they had increasingly grown distant despite their physical proximity. Mat remembered their first “birthday” in the foster home vividly. They had a hastily baked strawberry shortcake presented to them by their foster family. Sid’s advice was “Mat, enjoy the cake, really taste every bit of it and enjoy it when it’s available. But don’t get addicted to it, don’t remember it and yearn for it. Expectation only brings misery.” This and other such strange things is what made Mat grow tired of his brother.
Initially, they were ill adjusted to the life in the City. They were, after all, feral children – they didn’t belong in civilization. Their history notwithstanding, Mat did remarkably well at school. Sid seem disinterested in what civilization had to teach them. Mat even went to a prestigious college. In college fell in love with a girl and they got married by the time he was in his early twenties. Post education, he took up a job, not much different, perhaps, from his parents’ anonymous vocation. Mat and his wife lived in a suburb, had a pet dog for company and generally led a life that society had taught them would bring happiness, or at least this is how they were to pursue that elusive emotion. In all the years since Mat went off to college, however, he had hardly met Sid. Sid had come to Mat’s wedding, but that was about all they had seen of each other during all these years. Their foster family was not much close to them, for they were rebellious, not to mention feral, teenagers when they were brought there and by the time they could appreciate what that family had done for them it had grown dysfunctional.
Last year, however, Sid had called on Mat to meet him. It startled Mat, for, in all these years he couldn’t remember a single instance where Sid had asked him for anything, not even to meet him! The conversation they had then was exceedingly strange to Mat, even by the standards of his conversations with Sid. Mat recalled the conversation in his mind.
“How have you been, my brother?”
“I’m alright Sid. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. What are you doing these days?”
“Oh, it’s not much, I just bring people to our land and show them its beauty. Can you believe they pay me to do that? They pay me good money – just to show them something that could harm them!”
“I’m glad to hear that, are you happy?”
“I’m content, brother. I heard you bought a house?”
“Yes, Bigg would’ve been proud!”
“Indeed, say, do you ever wonder… never mind…”
“What is it?”
“It’s just that, do you ever wonder… you were so distraught at our parents’ sudden demise and so suddenly we find Bigg… or that he never provided us with anything, nothing physical, just… comfort… or that the social services never found anyone else where we lived…?”
“Well, it was providential that we found him. I don’t find it hard to believe that no one found him, remember he was a master of disguise and he’d lived off the land for god knows how long.”
“Yes, never mind. The reason I called, my… err… business is doing rather well… too well in fact. But I don’t want it. I want you to have it”
“What? I have my job here, my life here, I don’t want to go back to the land”
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. You can sell it. I have other people who guide people in the land as well, you could just manage it”
“Are you serious?!”
“Yes. Here are the papers.”
“And… what.. what will you do?”
“Oh, I’m off to explore places, experiences and the world…”
“You know you are giving up lots of things. You can have a good life here, a family perhaps… You can be happy!”
“Ah, but that’s not what I’m after!”
“What ARE you after?”
“You are crazy”
“So are you, my brother”
It turned out that Sid’s business was worth millions. Mat would’ve been a fool to not keep it. It annoyed him that Sid didn’t want to be happy, it annoyed him that he had to be back in the land he detested. But it meant money. So he was back, he was guiding a few folks in the area, showing them the ropes of surviving the land. He thought to himself “this is a strange land”…